After Colorado native Courtney Hartman spent an eight-year stint with Grammy-award winning bluegrass group Della Mae, she’s come back to her roots, moving into her family barn in Loveland.
Gathering inspiration from influences that range from a youth with Colorado bluegrass, a recent walking pilgrimage in Spain and surrounding herself with uniquely creative influences, Hartman will perform at eTown in Boulder on Saturday for the release of her “Ready Reckoner” album. She will also perform Sunday with Covenhoven at Sagebrush Sessions, a hike and concert experience in Horsetooth Mountain Park in Fort Collins.
Hartman talked to the Daily Camera ahead of her shows about leaving the East Coast, singing with Anais Mitchell and finding words and melodies along 500 miles of a 40-day trek in Spain.
Daily Camera: I saw on your Twitter you live in a barn. Tell us about home in Loveland.
Courtney Hartman: I moved back to Loveland earlier this year, into a barn on the property I grew up on. I must have been about 12 years old when a friend of my parents built the barn. We used to hold square-dances in the upstairs room that is now my bedroom. The space has had a few different lifetimes over the last decade. Returning home always brings a mirage of feelings, but right now feels like a precious season to be in the foothills where I can write, record and be near my family.
DC: You have a couple of big voices on your new album, including Anais Mitchell who’s likely about to mop up some the Tony Awards for “Hadestown.” Tell me about how some of these collaborations add depth to “Ready Reckoner.”
CH: Goodness, I feel like such a lucky duck. A few guests on the record have been formulative in who I am as an artist — those being Anais, as well as Sam Amidon, Bill Frisell and Shahzad Ismaily. Although much of “Ready Reckoner” came from a place of solitude — a solitude that can sometimes terrify me — I felt a firm presence of heroes and friends surrounding me, pouring love into the songs I had made. A humbling process. The night before we finished tracking the album, I dreamt the melody line that Anais sings on the record. She happened to be in town the next day, and at about 10 p.m., after tucking her little one into bed, she came by the studio to sing with me. I love when things fall into place. Sometimes I just need to remind myself that most often, they do.
DC: I read many of the songs on the new album were inspired by your 40-day Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage in Spain. Tell us about this journey.
CH: When I stepped foot on the camino, I was determined to write. Two of my heroes, Anne Lamott and Mary Oliver, wrote about the act of walking and writing. Somewhere deep in me, I decided that if I couldn’t write in the open and quiet of the trail, then I needed to carry on and find another way of being in the world.
Inevitably, it is not the things we think we will learn that teach us the most. I thought my deepest fears on the trail would be stray dogs and blisters. I thought that I would walk and write and record songs along the way. I thought it would all come easy. And I was so completely wrong. But just like walking — every day, one foot in front of the other, one word after another — I came home with a pile of words and melodies to sort through.The songs from the pilgrimage that ended up on “Ready Reckoner” came from the most quiet, barren days on the trail. Days that my body ached under the weight of my pack and guitar, days where I limped along, unraveling who I thought was in the world and who I thought I needed to be. They are my reminders of what I learned along the way — lessons I still must learn daily.
DC: You left Della Mae after eight years with the group, and after being on the East Coast for a decade, you came back to Colorado. How did this shuffle help shape your growth and songwriting? Are you happy to be back in Colorado?
CH: I spent much of last spring clearing space in my life — stepping away from things and places that I loved dearly, but with the knowledge that I needed an emptiness to make room for something new. Every summer for the last eight years has been full of festivals and touring, but last spring, I knew I needed to step back for a season to see who I was without it all. So I moved into my sister’s Winnebago and spent the summer writing, weeding the garden (a very therapeutic chore!) and finishing “Ready Reckoner.” Even if I am not settled here for the long haul, it is good to be back. I missed the horizon and the stars.
DC: What does it take to stand out in the music business these days?
CH: I have no idea! But I know that we can all sense an artist who is trying to stand out. Most often they end up standing out more like a sore thumb than someone whose music we want to hear. No one wants to listen to someone trying to be someone else; we don’t have time for that. If we tell our own stories and sing our songs with vulnerability and courage, then I think we will stand out. And if somehow I play a show or a song and make someone want to be more themselves, then my work has been done.
DC: Tell me about Sunday’s hike and concert for the Sagebrush Session. After your 500-mile Spain trek, this should be a walk in the park, right?
CH: My two favorite things. Sustain Music is a fantastic organization in Fort Collins whose mission is to converge artists and public spaces in the hopes of elevating both. They started Sagebrush Sessions as a way of doing just that— on Sunday, June 9, Covenhoven and I will hike up into Soderberg Open Space with an audience and we’ll play an intimate, acoustic concert out in the open. The session are free and open to the public; just show up with your walking shoes.
DC: What kind of fun can we expect for the eTown show?
CH: I’m very excited for this show. It will be an intimate night celebrating two years of hard and joyful heart work. A dear friend from Boulder, Alexa Wildish, will open up the evening. I will be joined by a couple friends from my community in NYC, Jason Burger on drums and Zoe Guigueno on bass. And of course, there will be a few special guests. All tickets purchased before Saturday will also come with a digital download of “Ready Reckoner.”
If you go
What: Courtney Hartman album release showWhen: 7 p.m. SaturdayWhere: eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., BoulderCost: $18-$23More info: etown.org
What: Sagebrush Sessions with Courtney Hartman and Covenhoven at Horsetooth Mountain ParkWhen: 1 p.m. SundayWhere: meet at Soderberg Trailhead, 3909 Shoreline Drive, Fort CollinsCost: Free, please RSVPMore info: sustainmusicandnature.org